I have to tell you that, while I remain skeptical about a possible iPad mini, it’s not as if the mainstream media or the major tech sites will let it go. It seems almost a given that Apple must compete with those smaller tablets even though, except for the brief success of the Amazon Kindle Fire, none of them have shown any real sales potential.
Yes, the latest Android tablet, the Nexus 7, has gotten very good reviews. At $199, the price is aggressive, and profit margins are slim. But unless Google Play can deliver a compelling mix of content and apps, it’s not at all certain that customers will be lining up to buy them. Should an iPad mini appear, the rumors point to a 7.85-inch tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio, same as the larger iPad. This will mean far more screen real estate than the other small tablets, which use widescreen form factors. So maybe you won’t need to sandpaper your fingers to use one.
Meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, returns to talk about Microsoft’s ongoing problems in remaining relevant, and his reactions to persistent rumors that a small iPad is coming later this year.
Tech blogger Jonathan Rettinger, of TechnoBuffalo, also talks about the potential for an iPad mini and how it may take over the market for small tablets. He’ll also suggest a possible solution for RIM to save the BlackBerry business, and about the possibilities for an Amazon smartphone.
Now I recently went along with predictions that Mountain Lion would arrive the day after Apple delivers quarterly financial results later this month. Maybe there will even be a product refresh or two, for the iMac and the Mac mini.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present the UFO field’s legendary “court jester” Jim Moseley, editor of Saucer Smear. During this free-wheeling conversation, Jim will give you his unvarnished views about the Aztec, NM UFO crash, and the many fascinating personalities he’s encountered in the UFO field over the years.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.
People like me who post on sites of this sort are really living in a bubble. The conversation is filled with Mac versus Windows, iOS versus Android, and so on and so forth. These subjects seem to become the most compelling issues of the day, and new products, or the potential for new products, fuel amazing amounts of anticipation.
Well, for us at least.
But in the real wide world out there, with loads of far more serious problems to confront, you have to wonder how many people are clamoring for OS 10.8 Mountain Lion, or even Microsoft’s Windows 8 for that matter. Will either OS change the personal computing world in any meaningful way?
Apple and Microsoft are surely taking entirely different approaches. Mountain Lion may sport over 200 new features (although many appear to be minor enhancements). But the traditional Mac OS look and feel isn’t changed all that much. You won’t have to learn new skills to get along with 10.8.
In contrast, Microsoft’s move with Windows 8 may be as much desperation as innovative, because they are essentially throwing out the traditional look of their operating system, and trying something altogether different. Well, it’s different if you never used a smartphone powered by the Windows Phone OS or the Zune music player.
On the surface, the Metro overlay for Windows 8 does seem to be a gutsy move. There’s no Start menu in the traditional sense, and the desktop is filled with tiles that seem to spill off the screen. The look may work on a mobile device, or maybe not, since Windows Phone hasn’t exactly taken the smartphone world by storm. The highly-touted Nokia Lumia 900, the supposed flagship Windows Phone device, doesn’t seem to have been all that successful. Nokia may have bet on the wrong horse, and it’s not going to be easy to turn back.
As it stands, Microsoft is in a pickle. They have taken an over $6 billion write-down because of a failed takeover of an online ad company. Bing search has not gained against Google. The market share increases largely came at the expense of Yahoo!, which is also powered by Bing. So it’s just a case of musical chairs.
Although some commentators have praised the announcement of a Surface tablet to the skies, very little is known about the product, even though it is supposedly just about three months from release. The spec sheet hasn’t been fleshed out, the final price isn’t known, and it’s not at all certain whether Microsoft really expects to release them. That peculiar reference by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to the Surface as a “design point” only increases my skepticism. Maybe it was all meant as a wakeup call to Microsoft’s OEMs to design something interesting for a change.
Certainly, PC sales aren’t going anywhere. A recent report about U.S. market percentages in the last quarter had PC sales dropping fast, with a slight increase in Mac sales. Since Mac growth has been far higher overseas, Apple may still report surprisingly good results later this month.
I’ve also read a few suggestions that poor PC sales may be the result of customers sitting on the sidelines waiting for Windows 8. I can see that with a mobile gadget, and it’s true that iPhone sales flagged in the September 2011 quarter for that very reason. But upgrades to Windows 8 are being priced aggressively — well aggressively for Microsoft that is. If you recently bought a PC, you will be able to get Windows 8 for $14.99 on many models. Buying it from scratch, online, will cost $39.99.
With prices so low, you’d think that customers who need a PC can be assured that they won’t have to worry about the cost of doing that upgrade later in the year. This being the case, if someone needs a new PC, the fact that Windows 8 isn’t on sale yet shouldn’t deter them. More than likely, people are putting off or giving up on PC purchases to get something different, such as an iPad, or perhaps a Mac. Apple has claimed for years that 50% of the people buying Macs at an Apple Store are new to the platform.
In addition, there’s little indication that there is genuine pent-up demand for Windows 8. Even tech writers who would otherwise seem to be sympathetic to Microsoft’s cause have been skeptical. It may well be that a reasonable number of consumers will buy Windows 8, either because it’s preloaded on new PCs, or because of the inexpensive upgrades. Businesses will avoid it like the plague. There’s no upside for them.
So, once again, I have to ask: What’s Microsoft’s Plan B if Windows 8 is stillborn? Will there be an interim upgrade restoring the traditional Windows look and feel, which is otherwise buried under Windows 8? And if that happens, what about the apps that people buy that require Windows 8? Microsoft’s beleaguered executives have a lot to think about.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the so-called 3D revolution has faded real fast. A while back, I read a report that DirecTV, the large satellite service, is cutting back on 3D content, because of lack of demand and the dearth of product. In the movie theaters, fewer and fewer people go to the 3D screens to watch new flicks. While a hefty majority saw “Avatar” in 3D, with glasses and all, half as many, percentage-wise, saw “The Avengers” in 3D.
In passing, I will admit to seeing both in 3D, largely because a screen was available in that format when my wife and I arrived at the nearby multiplex. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have bothered. I did not enjoy “Avatar” any less at home on 2D, and I think more and more moviegoers have opted to save money, or experience the movie on a larger format screen, such as IMAX.
Consumer electronics companies, struggling to fire up demand for flat panel TVs, have been trying to convince people to upgrade. The market is saturated after the boom times of several years ago, and most people who want high definition have it. New sets may offer slightly better pictures, with more gimmicks, but it’s a hard sell.
When it appeared that “Avatar” signaled a new 3D wave, TV makers introduced high-end models with 3D. When they failed to take off, they moved the technology to more affordable models. In the end, however, 3D is just one more feature that generally doesn’t make most people more apt to buy a new set. It doesn’t help that you also have to buy a 3D Blu-ray player and/or sign up with a cable or satellite service with 3D content. Worse, there’s not a lot of 3D content to be had, and thus few compelling reasons for you to endure the discomfort of those dreadful glasses in your home.
These days, the biggest new feature on a TV is the Internet. Manufacturers are giving you access to Netflix, YouTube and other services. If you aren’t interested in investing another $99 for an Apple TV, or $299 for a Nexus Q, you can get most of the same content on a new set. Or maybe your new Blu-ray player. All right, iTunes is only available with the Apple TV, but it’s always possible that Apple might consider licensing the technology as an alternate interface to TV makers. That way, they wouldn’t have to bother entering a business where they may find it extremely difficult to build gear and sell it at a price that gives them the outsized profits to which they are accustomed.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that 3D is dead. We are seeing older films, such as “Independence Day,” from 1996, newly edited in 3D format (coming in 2013). It might even be fun. And certainly many of the forthcoming blockbusters are expected to appear in 3D format, but not all. “The Dark Knight Rises” apparently will be in 2D and IMAX form. Kudos to director Christopher Nolan, who seems to believe that you might actually enjoy a film just as well or more without glasses or eye-popping special effects gimmicks to make you believe Batman is punching you in the face — or something.
This doesn’t mean 3D is necessarily dead. Consumer electronics makers are experimenting with ways to deliver 3D content without the glasses. The current techniques don’t seem so compelling, but the long-term future of 3D would seem to depend on making the experience not just thrilling but comfortable. Despite the supposed technological advantages of today’s 3D technology, the experience isn’t a whole lot better than in 1953, when “The House of Wax” premiered in 3D. Yes, the images may be brighter and sharper, but the glasses haven’t changed all that much over the decades.
Besides, I’d think that Hollywood has learned that attaching a lifeline to a fad doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term profits. As ticket prices grow higher, customers will continue to look for other alternatives. Maybe they’ll wait a few months to buy the Blu-ray, or rent via pay-per-view. By the time you pay $6.00 for each soft drink and $6.00 for a container of popcorn, the cost of seeing a movie in a real theater, to enjoy the crowd experience, may not make much sense.
Yes, I realize that a lot of today’s films are generating an incredible amount of revenue, and not just because of higher 3D ticket prices. There’s still something special about sitting in a big auditorium, and enjoying a larger than life experience on a huge screen with amazing sound. But convincing people to see the 3D version has become more and more of a hard sell.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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